On April 7th, the International Day of Reflection of the Genocide in Rwanda, we pause to remember the victims and survivors of the Rwandan Genocide. From April 6, to July 16, 1994 ethnic conflict in Rwanda reached its peak. The 100-day genocide resulted in the massacre of 800,000 to 1 million Tutsis and thousands of Hutus. 21 years later, the effects of the genocide continue to affect ethnic Tutsis and Hutus around the world. Hundreds of thousands of Tutsi refugees fled Rwanda during and after the 100-day genocide. Those individuals started their new lives in new countries, in the hope of a life free of violence and conflict. To learn more about this brutal genocide, click here.
Though the genocide itself lasted only 100 days, many ethnic Tutsi and Hutu Rwandans still are victims of its lasting effects. To this day, Human Rights Initiative continues to see and represent Rwandans whose lives have been affected by the genocide. Here are a few of their stories:
Samuel was only nine years old when he witnessed the brutal genocide in his country. His father, ethnically Hutu, and mother, ethnically Tutsi were not politically active people, but believed peace could exists amongst Hutus and Tutsis. Since birth, Samuel was considered a traitor, along with his parents, of both ethnicities due to his mixed race. Samuel’s father worked for the Rwandan government, but did not attach himself to any political party. In the early 2000s, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RFP), led by Tutsi Paul Kagame had taken control of the government. As Samuel’s father continued his work in the government, he was eventually asked to join the RFP. When Samuel’s father refused to join, he became a target of the RFP. In 2007, he was arrested and remains arbitrarily imprisoned to this day.
In September 2008, Samuel’s mother went to the jail to inquire about her husband. Samuel never saw her again. In October of that same year, Samuel was summoned by the Director of Military Intelligence. Samuel was taken to a station and questioned about his family’s political involvement. Samuel was imprisoned and tortured for nearly one month until he was eventually taken to be executed. Samuel cleverly managed to escape execution but was buried alive. He crawled out of the grave and eventually made his way to Tanzania. From there, Samuel found his way to the United States.
When Samuel finally arrived in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, he eventually made his way to Human Rights Initiative. In 2009, our now Executive Director, Bill Holston, took on his case pro bono. Within six months, Bill and the legal team at Human Rights Initiative had secured Asylum for Samuel.
Samuel is now a Legal Permanent Resident/Greencard Holder of the United States and a couple of years ago, enlisted in the United States Army Reserves. He is proud to serve his new country and the freedoms and liberties we enjoy as Americans.
*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality
Diane was just eight-years old when she witnessed the Rwandan Genocide that took her eldest sister. Though she doesn’t remember much from the event, she does remember hiding out in her neighbors house for two months as the genocide continued. She was born to a Hutu father and Tutsi mother. Diane’s father was a member for the FDU, a political party in opposition of the RFP, the ruling party led by Tutsi-leader Paul Kagame. Diane’s father was repeatedly questioned about his involvement in the FDU and eventually he was arrested and imprisoned in 2009. When Diane went to visit her father in prison, he insisted that they try and leave the country immediately. He feared that the government police would soon come after Diane, Diane’s mother, and 15-year-old sister.
Diane’s mother did not want to leave Rwanda while her husband was still in jail, so Diane and her sister went to the immigration office to try and get their passport. When they arrived, Diane and her sister were led to a back room by an immigration official and brutally beaten. They were accused of attempting to escape the country. The officer eventually took Diane and her sister to an immigration detention center where Diane continued to be interrogated, beaten, and repeatedly raped by the guards. Diane and her sister were allowed to leave just three days later and within a week were smuggled into Burundi by a close friend. From Burundi, Diane was able to make it to Dallas, with a stop in Pittsburgh, but had to leave her sister behind. Through a friend, Diane found Human Rights Initiative, who represented her in her affirmative and defensive asylum claims.
These are just two stories of how Ethnic strife continues in Rwanda and is now interlaced with Rwandan politics. 21 years after the end of the genocide, victims and their families continue to try and rebuild their lives in peace, but are faced with violence when they speak out. Today in Rwanda, speaking of the genocide in ways that deviate from the official government account of the event, is against the law. This law is often used to counter political dissent or opposition. We hope one day, we can see a peaceful and safe Rwanda for Tutsis and Hutus, alike.